Skip to main content

Jamaal Bowman Primary Challenger Shares Dozens of Donors With Republicans Who Sought Santos’ Seat

What does a Long Island Republican who ran to replace George Santos have in common with a Westchester Democrat in a solidly blue congressional district? More than 60 donors who, all told, have given both candidates more than $230,000.

Israel-Hamas war emerges as key issue in pivotal New York Democratic primary race (The Times of Israel). Composite photo: ,Rep. Jamaal Bowman (L), a New York Democrat at a campaign stop in White Plains, New York, June 11, 2024.(AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey); Westchester County Executive George Latimer speaks in White Plains, New York, Mar. 20, 2023.(Tania Savanna/The Journal News)

And the unifying factor in both races appears to be the candidates’ staunch support for Israel.

Mazi Pilip, who lost a special election to Rep. Tom Suozzi in a battleground district on Long Island after Santos was expelled from Congress, is a former paratrooper for the Israel Defense Forces who made her support for Israel central to her campaign. In his bid to oust Rep. Jamaal Bowman in this month’s Democratic primary, Westchester County Executive George Latimer has also made Israel — and Bowman’s criticism of its war in Gaza — a key focus of his campaign.

The shared donors have given $233,600 through March, according to a Gothamist analysis of federal campaign finance data.

Donors who spoke to Gothamist for this story said they felt compelled by Pilip’s origins as an Ethiopian Jewish refugee who served in the IDF before moving to Long Island and becoming a legislator. They also felt obligated to back Latimer against Bowman, who has been accused of antisemitism over his criticisms of Israel’s actions, which he's equated with genocide.

Donors told Gothamist that support for Israel outweighed party loyalty.

“I think playing politics with such a strong and valuable ally is bad policy,” Michael Dabah, a Manhattan-based Democratic donor who has given $1,500 in total to Pilip and Latimer, said of Israel.

The district Latimer is running in is heavily Democratic and will almost certainly be decided by the June 25 primary. The ongoing conflict in Gaza has upended typical party dynamics with left-leaning Democrats like Bowman being accused of antisemitism as more centrist Democrats pledge support for Israel. Progressives have accused moderate Democrats of ignoring the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli military.

Most of Latimer and Pilip’s shared donors had publicly available voter registrations, and all but three appeared to live outside the 16th Congressional District, which Latimer is seeking to represent. Nearly half were registered Democrats, while a third were registered Republicans.

The 10 donors who donated the most collectively to both candidates all had histories of donating to Republicans, as well as a cadre of pro-Israel Democrats.

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)

Latimer received about $92,000 from their mutual donors while Pilip received $142,000. Gothamist cross-referenced campaign finance data with public records to confirm the identities of the shared donors. Donors who contributed to Latimer’s campaign in April and beyond weren’t included in the analysis, so the total is likely an undercount.

The Latimer campaign declined to comment on the record, though a spokesperson noted he endorsed Suozzi in the Long Island race. A spokesperson for Pilip’s congressional campaign referred Gothamist to the Nassau County GOP, which did not return a request for comment.

Although Latimer has bemoaned the attention the national press has given Israel in the campaign, he has used the issue to court Jewish voters.

“You've chosen to sit with the cool kids over here in the cafeteria,” he said of Bowman during a campaign event for Jewish voters. “[You] vote no on things that you should be voting yes on, give speeches and then turn your back on one of the most important constituencies you have and tell the Jewish people of this county: I don't hear you at all.”

Lawrence Wang, a spokesperson for the Bowman campaign, said it comes as “no surprise” that dozens of Latimer donors have also contributed to Pilip — citing Latimer’s support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the United Democracy Project, an affiliated super PAC.

“In George Latimer, Republicans have found a perfect vessel for their right-wing interests and Democratic voters will be the ones that suffer the consequences," Wang said.

Latimer’s financial support from pro-Israel interests — both Democrat and Republican — again came up at a recent candidate forum.

“I don't know why he's adverse to using the word Palestinian or saying Palestine,” Bowman said during the League of Women Voters of Westchester forum this week. “It's like his AIPAC donors won't allow him to do so. It's unbelievable.”

Latimer has said that he appeals to AIPAC donors on a single issue — and that his appeal to Republicans is a testament to his bipartisanship.

“He's criticized the party affiliation of some of my donors when in fact I've always had donors from both sides of the aisle, all of those campaigns that I've run, because I've governed well, and I've governed in a way that was bipartisan,” Latimer said at the same forum.

Both the 3rd Congressional District on Long Island where Pilip ran and lost, and the 16th in southern Westchester and the northern Bronx, where Latimer is now running, are majority white, according to census data. The median household income is much higher in the Long Island district that Pilip sought to represent.

Pilip’s district went for President Joe Biden in 2020 while also turning out for Republican Lee Zeldin in the 2022 gubernatorial elections. Meanwhile, the district Latimer is vying to represent has a reliably blue electoral track record.

“If an Israeli paratrooper was not the candidate [in the 3rd District], they might have supported the Republican challenger anyways,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University on Long Island, referring to Republican donors who backed Latimer.

Latimer appeals to those same people as “the poster child for the schism between progressives and moderates over the war,” Levy said.

The districts diverge in the demographics of their non-white populations. The 16th Congressional District has a higher share of Black voters, who could be critical in the outcome of the race between Latimer and Bowman.

Still, the electorates in both suburban districts tend to have more in common with each other than more liberal voters in New York City.

“The voters in Westchester and Long Island may be inches apart,” Levy said. “The voters in New York City — compared to Westchester, Long Island — are yards.”

Of the 62 people who donated to both Latimer and Pilip, only three listed addresses in the 16th District, where Latimer is running. Eight donors listed addresses in the 3rd Congressional District, where Pilip ran. The rest appeared to live either outside the districts or outside the state.

Outside the tristate area, Florida appeared to be the biggest home base for mutual donors.

“I'm getting support from people who know me, who've seen me be a very effective and progressive county executive, arguably the most progressive county executive in the state,” Latimer told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Wednesday when asked about his funding from AIPAC.

After his campaign event on Sunday, Latimer criticized Bowman’s fixation on his funding.

“I've been running with support — not just financial support from the Jewish community, but from people in the Jewish community that live in the district who want their congressman to have a different approach to Israel than he's had,” Latimer said in a brief interview. “So I don't think that there's anything further to defend.”

He has also says Bowman’s funding hasn’t received the same level of scrutiny. Politico reported Wednesday that the incumbent representative benefited from a 2021 fundraiser from a group with ties to Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, among other interactions Bowman reportedly had with the pro-Turkey organization. 

But Latimer still appears to be ahead in the cash race, and is backed by pro-Israel organizations that have poured millions into defeating Bowman. A separate Politico analysis showed that 40% of AIPAC donors who gave to Latimer through the organization’s fundraising network had previously donated to Republicans.

As the death toll in Gaza mounts, Israel's actions have become a political concern for President Joe Biden as he faces a rematch with Donald Trump.

But the story is a little different in the 3rd and 16th Districts.

“I feel like my politics have been hijacked by certain folks on the left,” said Dabah, who supports Latimer. “I don't think that I am the exception in trying to put my weight behind folks that try and draw their districts back to the center, and back together.”

[Michelle Bocanegra is a political reporter at the Gothamist/WNYC, New York public radio.

[Jaclyn Jeffrey-Wilensky writes data-driven health and science stories for WNYC/Gothamist. She also runs Gothamist's COVID data dashboards. She is an alumna of the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. Her work has appeared in NBC News, Spectrum, the Daily Beast, and other outlets. Got a tip? Email or Signal 516-366-4382.]